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We are all guided by abstract notions such as ‘it’s okay to take time for yourself sometimes’ or ‘family or health is the most important thing’. However reading and re-reading these ‘truths’ and nodding our heads does not make the truth real in your own life. Even if we whole-heartedly believe something to be true, we need the specific examples from our own lives to thoroughly believe the truth and be absorbed by it so we can truly live by it, not just affirm it.
If you are in the US this week you are thinking about the things you are grateful for. Scientifically gratitude is about what others do for us. However this week let’s not forget what we do for ourselves. Do you thank yourself for that or always think it’s not enough? Most people could do with an increased dose of self-care but instead of feeling guilty about that let’s be grateful about the things we manage to do for ourselves and others.
The author Liz Gilbert was advised to have no crush or two crushes at once, but never just one. If something goes wrong with one of them, at least you have the other. This is also true when you are trying stuff out that really mean something to you. When you put work forward that matters so much that you are vulnerable about it, it might be helpful to have more than one such a project. That way if something stagnates you can move to the next thing and then come back. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t focus or never finish anything you do. At any given moment you can and will focus on one thing, but you want something or several other things to back that up.
Life’s pretty good, and why wouldn’t it be? I’m a pirate, after all.-Johnny Depp
There is this drive to be better than others. I see it in school children, students, at the work place and even when a couple of people come together to socialize. This is encouraged as our whole economy is built on competition. However if you want to be better than others you give devote your life to total randomness: being the best in class doesn’t mean anything if your cohort happens to be a weak one. It sets you up for either being unhappy that you are not the best, or when you reach the top spot being lulled into thinking you are really good, without knowing if that is true or not until you leave your pond for a bigger one (and then you start all over from the bottom).
If you set goals that you want to reach regardless of what everybody else is doing you might fail or not. But at least you are not guided by randomness.
“Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says I’ll try again tomorrow.”
― Mary Anne Radmacher
Don’t confuse your beginnings with someone else’s peak.
As humans we have a lot of wishes and desires. We all fantasize about things we would love to be: CEO, athlete, thought-leaders or even ourselves but better. If we are happy with how things are going there is no need to change anything. Yet if we wonder why things are not moving for us the question is:
- do we implement CEO habits or do we just want the goodies?
- are we training like an athlete trains?
- are we thinking instead of just repeating things?
- do we actually lead when the situation calls for it?
- do we consume and outsource or make things?
Let’s not fool ourselves: some things are better as fantasies and some things like certain sports might be wonderful in small doses but not six hours a day.
When your car breaks down you want the mechanic to diagnose the problem and then fix it. If it doesn’t work the first time around you expect the said mechanic to come up with alternative solutions and try them out one by one until the car is fixed. What you probably don’t want your mechanic to do is to discuss with you how many other cars have this problem, why it’s really hard, that the spare parts exist but each supplier for this spare part sucks for this and this reason.
Yet in psychology, the media, government and even established business we not only accept some of these completely pointless discussions, we participate in them.
At work when you train youngsters there are always people scared that you spoil them. The reasoning goes that only if you are firm and establish strict rules do the kids learn. Yet most of those people when they go home see no problem in loving their own children and refraining from setting up a military school.
Yes contexts differ and what applies to your mechanic might not be the same as what works for a journalist. But sometimes these differences have absolutely nothing to do with context or rationality but are simply a result of old ways of doing things and being too lazy to transition to something else.
In the aftermath of the Paris attacks people feel a lot of sadness, fear and hopelessness. It’s a perfectly natural immediate response that will wane off eventually. However we have to understand that the narrowing effects that negative emotions have on us have very real consequences not only on us personally but in terms of world affairs. If we give in to pressure and being scared all the time our ability to come up with creative solutions disappears. We stop asking the right questions and wonder whether our peaceful values apply to extraordinary situations such as terrorism.
In terms of the ISIS situation the positive and solution orientation would ask:
How can we stop ISIS without planting the seeds for new wars and conflicts 10-15 years down the line? How can we defeat the enemy with little to no violence at all? And these questions suddenly help us come up with different possible solutions:
- How can we interrupt their internet and phone connections?
- How can we freeze the money before it reaches them?
- How can we intercept the weapons and ammunition delivery?
So learning to keep it cool and have some control over our emotions and thought processes is really not a nice to have but crucial if we want to live in a peaceful world.
What kind of non-human teachers do you have in your life? Mine include among others the piano, the podcast microphone, the game of soccer and running. Do you spend enough time with your teachers?
Casts have many disadvantages: they itch when you put them on, they smell bad and the muscle underneath is very likely to atrophy. Yet when you break a bone you need to use a cast despite all of these disadvantages because the priority is for the bone to heal. The same is true with certain thoughts and beliefs. We too readily point out the flaw of each thought, belief, practice or tool and then we feel satisfied because we feel like we have just used a discerning mind. I used to do that all the time. But sometimes things which are a bad idea for a long time are vital for short moments: yes we don’t want to be dependent on other people all the time but at some times it might be necessary. We might not want to idolize people if it means that we don’t see them as whole, but sometimes a little bit of idolization can help us see things that others miss. We are not damned to eternally do what we are doing or thinking now. So let’s be a bit more thoughtful before we discard possible solutions.
As I was playing the piano I had this impulse to skip over a part I had always struggled with. I invoked a loophole that went along these lines: I am not good at it, it’s not my strength, so I should play the parts that I am good at better.
However we have to be careful when we use strengths as excuses or confuse them with something that has nothing to do with our character strengths: the muscle memory needed to play piano has nothing to do with my strengths of strategy, intellection or connectedness to name a few. One way that this becomes evident is that when playing an instrument after lots of drill practice (just practicing the same section over and over) it can suddenly become one of the easiest and most enjoyable parts of the whole song. This is an indication that it has nothing to do with weaknesses: real weaknesses are not simply turned around after a few drills and become enjoyable and pleasurable. If they do they were not weaknesses to begin with but just things you had little experience with.
Our ability to adapt is amazing. Things change and yet we are able to adapt after a while without doing anything consciously. It just happens. What’s the last change you got used to without having to get into action mode? How do you feel about it? Proud? Grateful?
Which three things help you refuel? If you don’t regularly engage in these things what’s stopping you?
My top three:
- Staying home not caring about any to-dos and merrily ‘wasting time’
The comedian Jerry Seinfeld once mentioned in an interview that he makes a cross on each day he has practiced his comedic skills. After a while you have a chain going that you don’t want to break. Setting yourself a tiny habit to do every day can be a great way to start such a chain. What chain, even if it’s just for 5 minutes a day, could you build?
As a kid during a soccer game I had been in energy saving mode for the most time so I could sprint and shoot the goal when it mattered. This strategy worked like a charm as a kid and as a teenager. It also made a lot of sense because despite playing lots of soccer I had no endurance to speak of.
Now after over a year of playing soccer on Mondays it occurred to me that I am holding back although something had changed. Actually now I have more endurance than I had as a kid and teenager because I am a runner, albeit a very very infrequent one. So I had been unconsciously holding back, although the reason I had held back in the past, zero endurance, didn’t exist anymore.
Every once in a while we should re-examine our own limitations. Do they still exist or are we merely continuing them out of a habit?
Somewhere something incredible is waiting to be known.
I would venture as far as to say that this something is inside of you.
When’s the last time you made something you were so proud of you wanted to show it to everyone? It doesn’t have to be something huge. I designed this new artwork for the podcast today and I am giddy about it like a kid:
Somebody asks you something and you answer immediately but then a few days go by and you wonder why you said yes or no. Today let’s think about what you say yes or no to. Are you saying yes to an opportunity instead of the actual project? Or are you saying no to a person while you would be perfectly able to fulfill the actual request? When we are not sure why we made the decisions we made it’s valuable to ask ‘what did I say yes or no to?’ The person, the project, the opportunity, doubts in my own ability, projected stress?